This island and town is named after its original inhabitants, the
Edistow Indians. Various spellings of the tribe name have been cited
over the past several centuries. By around 1600, the tribe amounted to
about 1000 members, spread over counties in and around present day
Spanish settlers arrived in the 1500s, followed by the English in the 1600s. In 1674 the Earl of Shaftsbury purchased Edisto Island SC from the Edistow Indians for a handful of goods. Thereafter, commerce on the Island began to develop. Rice and indigo were the most common crops during the early settlement years. Later, significant cotton plantations were built and flourished. This industry, fueled by rich land owners and slaves, prospered until the Civil War.
In November, 1861 the Union forces had made significant advances as close as Beaufort to the south. The Confederacy, low on resources, had to concentrate its efforts on protecting the mainland. At this time approximately 5000 people, 4600 of whom were slaves, inhabited Edisto Island. Those slaves had been the foundation of the farming industry that defined the Island. The call went out to the inhabitants of Edisto Island to load their goods and abandon their homes. The residents desperately attempted to harvest and sell their crops; not an easy task in a war torn region. They destroyed what they couldn't harvest, sell, or take with them. Cotton fields were burned to keep them out of the Union soldiers hands. Many slaves were left behind, along with the stately Plantation mansions. Although the Union soldiers thereafter invaded Edisto SC and Johns Islands, the Confederate forces were able to retain control of Charleston until 1865, very late in the War.
After the Civil War, resident slowly returned to the island. The cotton industry resumed until the boll weevil destroyed it. The land owners turned to truck gardening, an industry that persists on the Island today.
By the 1920s South Carolina residents began arriving to Edisto SC to build crude retreats; hardly the vacation industry of today, but a place to relax nevertheless. In those days, access to the Island could be gained only at low tide by driving or riding across the marsh on beds of oyster shells.
The Edisto River, believed to be the longest black river in the world, because of the nutrient rich marsh that borders it, has always been a significant part of the Island. The Islands position has made it a superb venue to launch commercial and tourist fishing enterprises. Not long ago, forty shrimp boats could be seen fishing nearby waters and docking on the Edisto River or Big Bay Creek. Sadly, foreign shrimp farms have driven much of the local shrimp industry away. Edisto SC remains a haven for sport fishing and tourist charters.
A major hurricane destroyed most of the homes on the Island in 1940. Development activity increased after Word War II. Although Charleston was devastated by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Edisto Island SC escaped significant damage, catching only the back side of the Hurricane. Development of the Island continues today, when tourism is a significant part of the Edisto SC economy. Edisto Beach is an endearing mix of classic beach cottages, extravagant new beach homes, and a championship golf course and resort. The island has maintained its connection to the past. Several historic homes remain and are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The beach community retains a comfortable feel of beach communities of years gone by mixed with modern conveniences just 35 miles from Charleston.